My denomination is dealing these days with a pastor in California who reversed his position on homosexuality. The pastor said that his shift coincided with his 15 year-old son’s announcement that he is gay. This is a situation every Christian should think through, now. As I’ve said before, at stake on the issue of a Christian sexual ethic is the gospel of Jesus Christ. But what if, sitting across from you, is your child or grandchild?

You will, without a doubt, have someone close to you in your family come out as gay or lesbian, if not already, then sometime in the future. How should a Christian parent or grandparent respond?

One of the reasons this is such a crushing experience for many is because they assume that their alternatives are affirmation or alienation. I either give up my relationship with my child or I give up the Bible. The gospel never suggests this set of alternatives, and in fact demonstrates just the opposite.

Every child, whether gay or straight, is oriented toward sin, and so are you. If your child or grandchild says he or she is gay, you shouldn’t act shocked, as though you are surprised your child might be tempted toward sin, or that you find your own sinful inclinations somehow less deserving of God’s judgment.

Your child’s point of temptation doesn’t mean that your entire relationship with him or her should be defined by that. We don’t affirm what the Bible says is wrong simply because someone we love is drawn toward it, whether that’s “straight” fornication or gay relationships. At the same time, that doesn’t mean your entire relationship is now to become a sparring match over Romans 1. Ironically, those who cut off all relationship with a gay child buy into the narrative of the Sexual Revolutionaries, that every aspect of one’s identity is defined by sexual orientation and activity. As a Christian, you believe this person is made in the image of God, and thus worthy of love, regardless of how far away from God, or from you.

First of all, consider what your child is telling you. He or she could be saying that this is an identity, from which they refuse to repent. That will require a different sort of response than if the child is saying, “This is how I feel, so what do I do?” This will change the way you respond, but what doesn’t change is your love and care for this child. Don’t panic and don’t reject them. Say explicitly that you love that child, no matter what, and mean it. Your relationship wasn’t formed by the child’s performance, and that won’t start now.

If your loved one is a Christian, spend time over the years discipling him or her about what following Christ looks like. Jesus isn’t shocked by his or her temptations, and will not leave him or her alone to fight them. The path toward chastity and fidelity to Christ is a difficult one, and your child or grandchild will need you and the church and the great cloud of witnesses to cheer him or her on, as they walk a path that can be lonely in a world that too often defines sex and sexuality as ultimate in life.

If your loved one isn’t a Christian, express your love, keep the relationship going, and be a gracious gospel witness. God never promises us that our children or grandchildren will all walk the way of Christ. Every wandering son or daughter needs to know that if the moment of crisis comes in his or her life, there’s a house waiting with a fatted-calf party ready to go, welcoming the wanderer home.

One of the reasons this is so hard for some parents and grandparents is because somehow we assume this issue to be merely a “culture war” issue, and not a gospel issue. As such, parents are often perplexed as to how to deal with this in their families because they think this is about them.

They wonder if others will judge them, as though they did something to “cause” this. That’s ridiculous, and it leads people ultimately either to reject biblical teaching to keep their kids or reject their kids (and their gospel witness to them) for the sake of appearing to keep the biblical teaching. At the root of all of that is pride, and I don’t mean that in the sense of “gay pride” but in the sense of carnal self-seeking. That’s a temptation for all parents, not just for those of gay children. We’re tempted to see our children as reflections of ourselves, and we’re tempted then to keep up our image.

Crucify that temptation. God calls us to holiness, and to encourage one another to holiness. The Bible is clear that this means fleeing from sexual immorality, and that includes same-sex sexual activity (1 Cor. 6). God also calls parents to love their children. Be clear about your convictions, and at the same time don’t exile your child from your life. If we sacrifice grace for truth or truth for grace, we’re sub-Christian.